Reading the Newspaper with Habakkuk

I have been preaching through the book of Habakkuk and it has been very refreshing and instructive. One area of encouragement came through the interplay between current events and the context of God’s overarching plan. I think it is particularly helpful when we think about the current events in the world today.

If you are not familiar with the book let me set the table a bit. Israel is in a bad place in the early 7th Century BC. Assyria has kicked their teeth in a bit, deporting many and dominating those who remain. Because of the people’s rebellion against God’s Word they are suffering from the suffocating rule of a pagan nation. Habakkuk looks around and sees things getting worse rather than better. He cries out to God in chapter 1 declaring that he is fatigued and somewhat frustrated with what he sees. He wants answers as well as salvation.

God does answer him but not in the way that Habakkuk would have expected or even desired. God says that he is going to deal with the Assyrians and the rebellious covenant community by raising up and deploying the Babylonians. And, it would get very, very bad.

Through all of this however, Habakkuk is taught a very important lesson: God has an ultimate plan, an endgame, for both the nations and his people. To borrow from Jim Hamilton’s excellent book title, God will bring Salvation through Judgment”. God’s people will be saved. God’s enemies will be judged. But, the saving will not be …

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Push Off the Gospel-Wall

I enjoy watching swimming. Not being much of a swimmer myself, I’m fascinated by how fast and fluid good swimmers are. It appears like an aquatic art form as they splash minimally, move rhythmically, and at the right time grab a breath of air like it’s second nature. One of my favorite  things to see good swimmers do is push off of the wall and do a return lap. When they come towards the end and do that flip-sping-thing underwater and then accelerate into the next lap. It’s beautiful. Of course it is not only beautiful it is strategic. Pushing off that wall is an efficient way to turn and it provides a proper push into the next lap.

I have a similar reaction when listening to particularly solid preachers or reading helpful (Christian) writers. In the midst of communicating they seem to effortlessly, but not unintentionally, push of the gospel wall as they steam ahead. It is a beautiful thing.

Some may call it gospel-grammar: we need to have our indicatives (the facts of what Christ did) informing our imperatives (what we must do as Christians). This is the pattern of the New Testament. The Apostles have a gospel reflex. They keep going back to the truth of Christ’s work to inform the priority of our work (consider the commands to husbands and wives in Eph. 5 for example).

You also have the gospel-identity. The fact of what Christ did shapes who we are. Ephesians does this repeatedly. Consider how many …

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Being Biblical and unChristian

We all have blind spots. We have our issues. Whether we are talking about personal, social, or theological blind spots, we have them. And to say you don’t, is to, well, make my point.

The important thing for us to look for said weaknesses, identify them and replace them. This is living life as a fallen sinner it is reality.

But sometimes our blind spots are our hobby horses. And this is a problem.

I can remember arguing about abortion with a friend who is pro-choice. In the midst of the discussion (it was civil) he called me out on my flippancy concerning life in the various wars that the US is involved in. He had a point. My issue was inconsistent. I had a blind spot.

Outspoken Bible Guys
I think there are people who are outspoken in their passion and devotion to the Bible. They are proponents of taking the Bible literally, being black or white and trying their best to obey what it says. We might call them evangelicals, fundamentalists, or simply Protestants. There really are many names and stripes available.

These guys (and ladies) will rightly go after those who compromise the Scriptures. They call out those who deny the Bible’s inspiration and inerrancy. They oppose people who inject their ministries with pragmatic methods. They decry the moral compromise in and around the professing church. All of this to say, no one would accuse them of being unbiblical. In fact, this is their cry, “we are just being biblical.”

And quite frankly, …

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The NIV Celebrates 50 Years

Zondervan continues its celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the NIV. Recently, I did a little poking around and was greatly encouraged by the impact of the NIV since 1965. In particular,  the NIV has held a unique place among Bible readers for whom English is a second or developing language. The video below highlights this:

In celebrating this anniversary, they are offering the free NIV50 app, reading plan, and other aids created to celebrate the 1965 convening of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT).

    The free NIV 50th Anniversary Bible App (available in IOS and Android) provides free access to the NIV, additional quarterly content, and the notes from a variety of NIV Bibles for the 2015 calendar year.
    365-day reading plan drawn from an NIV study or devotional Bible, delivered via email

But I am most excited about the NIV Zondervan Study Bible with Dr DA Carson as the general editor. As the video below shows, this Study Bible is built on the truth of Scripture and centered on the gospel message. It’s a comprehensive undertaking of crafted study notes and tools to present a biblical theology of God’s special revelation in the Scriptures. This looks like a very helpful tool. I am looking forward to getting a copy.

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Actually, Past Performance *Is* Indicative of Future Success

Years ago I worked in a financial brokerage. In particular I worked in compliance. We were very meticulous about ensuring that we said and did everything right. One phrase I remember seeing regularly is, “Past performance is not indicative of future results.” In other words, just because a fund or company has done well in the past does not mean that it will do well in the future. Typically this is appended to data that demonstrates solid past performance.

In the Christian world however, this phrase is turned on its head. It is in fact very much non-compliant with the Scripture.

What the writers of Scripture tend to do is unload piles of data upon us to show us that this God who has worked powerfully in the past will in fact do so in the future.

Just this morning I was reading the 77th Psalm in my devotions and I saw this same tactic. The Psalmist is, in the present, crying aloud to the Lord (v.1). He is feeling the pinch. Things are hard.

So what does he do? In both verses 5 & 11 we see him looking at the historical data for present comfort (Ps. 77.5, 11).

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This Priest has a Billion Jacobs Engraved on His Breastplate

(Isa 53.9) and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Neither my mind nor my heart can fathom the polemical collision that occurred when Jesus, in his holy humanity, suffered the ill treatment, abuse and fermented scorn of his executioners. There really are no earthly comparisons or illustrations to faithfully communicate the injustice incurred at the hands of evil men as they shrouded the perfect and honorable one with abuse and shame.

But as I sat an chewed on this passage the word deceit jumped out at me. As I think about deceit I immediately think of Jacob. Who himself was a cunning deceiver. He tricked Isaac, Esau, Laban & others. He is the type of Bible hero that portrays a need for a redeemer. Shamefully, I can relate to this Jewish Patriarch.

And this is one of the amazing facets of the cross. Not only did Jesus endure such injustice from sinners but he did it for sinners.

Here he is absolutely free from sin. But at the same time he is shrouded with sin. He is, as 2 Cor. 5.21 says, made to be sin on our behalf. He did this while maintaining the integrity of his holy humanity. However, he was shrouded in the sewer clothes of our iniquity.

Therefore we can rightly say that while there was no deceit in his mouth, there was indeed deceivers on his mind, deceit on his back! There were a billion Jacobs engraved on his breastplate as this high priest went in …

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Don’t Despise the Day of Small Things

I don’t know that I have ever seen an experience that could rival it. There was crying so loud that people could hear it from a far distance away. The crying was strange though, it was mixed with happiness and lament. It was 2,500 or so years ago in the land of Israel. The exiles had returned and had laid the foundation for the new temple. The older folks were wailing with lament because they had seen the previous temple in all of its glory. The younger folks who had grown up in exile were excited and full of joy as they looked ahead to this new temple.

The strange chorus of weeping and wailing punctuates the epic scene in Ezra 3 as the foundation for the new temple is laid.

At the same time we can read of the prophet Zechariah dealing with the attitudes of lament here as well as the forthcoming fear of man in chapters 4-5 of Ezra. One of the big prophetic hammers that Zechariah brings to this party is a statement about what God is doing and the fact that people are not to despise the day of small things.

“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ”…For whoever has despised the day of …

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Pastors: An Idea for your Next Sermon Series

Preachers love to preach. We love to dive down deep, mining God’s Word for glorious, eternal treasures and then to swim back up to the service, sharing them with our church each week. But sometimes we get a little preacher’s cramp in so far as what to preach next. After preaching through Ezra and Nehemiah, I am thoroughly convinced that pastors, in particular those who are in the work of church planting revitalization, should prayerfully consider preaching through these books.

Here are some reasons…

New Beginnings: Ezra starts out with the people of God in Babylon. Within a verse or two God is stirring the heart of a pagan King (Cyrus) to send his people back to Israel to rebuild the temple and reestablish the covenant community. It is time for a new day. In particular for a church plant or revitalization, this helps to show how God works in people and communities to build something new.

Idolatry: The books are replete with examples of what idolatry is. Everywhere from the negligence of the weak in Nehemiah 8 to the ignorance of the Sabbath in order to make wine in Nehemiah 13, God shows how the elevation of good things to ultimate things is actually a replacement of what is ultimate, namely the worship and adoration of the Lord God. This primes the pump for a crucial discussion on idolatry.

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Book Review- From Eden to the New Jerusalem

One of the dangers for students of the Bible is to get so into details that we end up forgetting how these details fit together. It is not to say that the details are bad, for we love the details. However, if we don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the big picture and how the various details fit together, then how much do we really understand these seemingly unrelated facts?

This is a good tension to realize and address. To help us in doing so T. Desmond Alexander has written a terrific book entitled From Eden to the New Jerusalem. And as the title suggests it is a study that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. It is a study called thematic biblical theology. That is, he tackles the Bible’s meta-story of creation, fall, redemption and runs it through the various books to understand their contribution to the big story, or the whole.

Here is one of the quotes that impacted me:

God’s original blueprint is for the whole earth to become a temple-city filled with people who have a holy or priestly status. Tragically, the actions of Adam and Eve endanger the fulfillment of this project. In spite of this, God graciously and mercifully embarks on a lengthy process designed to reverse this setback and bring to completion his creation scheme. pp. 30-31

The treasure in a book like this is its simplicity. Alexander is not writing too far above us. He takes the themes and chases them down through the Scriptures …

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Book Review- How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

Many people have been taught to read their Bibles as a collection of isolated books. The books spans over millennia and many different cultures. How do these books fit together? Does the Bible have an organized, coherent theme? Or, are we simply doing a biblical jig-saw puzzle without the picture?

Michael Williams believes that the Bible should be read redemptively. Or, to put it another way, he believes that the Old Testament looks forward to Christ’s work then the New Testament describes Christ’s work and then explains all of its implications. Williams is Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary and a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation. In his book, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens, he sets out on a task to help ordinary Christians see the person and work of Christ in every book.

The concept sounds simple but the task, in my opinion, is a bit daunting. We have 66 books in the Bible. Some are very long books (i.e. Genesis) and some are short (i.e. Ruth). Some are very complicated (i.e. Ezekiel) and some are more straightforward (i.e. Mark). Williams aims to take every book and introduce it, explain its basic objective and them, and then show how it points forward or reflects Christ. He does this in about 4 pages or so per book. Some may want more detail but I don’t think this is the point of this book. If you want to study in more depth perhaps a NT/OT …

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